Women in fiction…If a heroine cries, does that make her weak?

Crying womanIt seems everyone has a different opinion on what makes a woman strong.  I’ve seen people comment in book reviews that because a heroine cried it made her look weak.  Is it really that simple?  Is a woman who never cries–no matter what happens to her or the people she cares about–the ideal?  In fact, is it the ideal for either gender?

Individual perception is everything, but I’ll give my take on this.

There are times when it is natural for a woman to let her pent-up emotions out.  Show the reader she is suffering and not some hardened shell of nothingness.  She wouldn’t seem human otherwise.  If she has suffered through horrific events, loss of family/friends, or serious health problems (maybe all of the above if the author likes to make their characters extra miserable) most readers would expect some kind of visible reaction.  It doesn’t have to be in a public place, or in front of anyone for that matter, but even a brief scene showing emotional turmoil can go a long way.  The average reader will be drawn in further and develop sympathy by seeing it.

Strong people in real life cry. 

I saw it many times while in combat zones with both men and women, but I’ll give an example to help clarify.  A bomb hit an Army dining facility at a base in northern Iraq just before Christmas.  One of the guys I worked with, someone I respected a lot, had been up there on a brief trip and eating his meal when it hit.  He was sitting across the table from a good friend of his.  The friend was hit by flying debris that tore his body up and killed him on the spot.  My coworker survived with only minor cuts and scratches, though just a few feet separated them.

He came back to our camp a couple of days later in a numb state of shock.  You could see it written all over his face. I have no doubt he cried at some point when no one could see him.  Did that make him weak?  I should hope not.  A few days later he pulled himself back together.  His anguish was no longer apparent, but I’m sure he’ll carry the visuals of that day for a long time.  A lot of soldiers died in that dining facility and it would be natural to feel some survivors guilt.  I know I cried for a lot of friends who lost their lives and wondered why them and not me?  I never let it show when work had to be done, but when it was safe and private, I let those feelings out.  You can’t survive seeing the kinds of crazy things that happen over there otherwise.  It will eat at you.

My point is this.  If a heroine cries at the appropriate times, I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.  She isn’t any less strong and maybe more so for letting herself feel.  The only time, in my opinion, that it gets annoying is if she is screaming and crying right in the midst of danger or making ridiculous scenes that no half-sane woman would make.  That will lower my opinion of her.  Kind of like horror movies that always have the young, pretty woman who can’t even run from the serial killer with an ax because she is too busy crying and falling down.  Those kind are what I call “too stupid to live” and I lack any sympathy for them.  Don’t write that kind of character if you want her to be respected.

There are probably a lot of scenarios I didn’t cover here where crying may or may not be appropriate.  It isn’t a one size fits all type of situation.  Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.  I’d love to hear them.

~ by Suzie on January 6, 2013.

18 Responses to “Women in fiction…If a heroine cries, does that make her weak?”

  1. Hey Susan, yeah I totally agree.

    I see no problem letting my characters cry, when I feel it needed. In fact my lead has been in a long-term funk in which she battles through her tears and slowly gains the strength and tenacity to see life through. Without the tears and anguish she would have little or no character. Tears can be a massive aid to character development too.

    Heck, life throws some real doozers at us – sometimes they are life changing and life-threatening. No harm in a female lead showing she is human (or in my case, that she at-least retains some semblance of her humanity).

    • Well said, Kaden. I figured others could add to the subject. Real strength comes from overcoming adversity. If it takes some time to work through fear and grief and only makes the hero/heroine look more credible in the end. A character who feels nothing all the time isn’t easy to relate to.

      In the paranormal genre, I think some of the best leads are those who show hints of the depth inside of them. No matter how long they live or what powers they have, it’s their flashes of emotion that make them the most compelling.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great post! And I agree completely. Women characters in fiction who cry too easily lose my sympathy but EVERYONE cries sometimes, male and female and this needs to be shown in fiction.

  3. There’s nothing wrong with characters crying in fiction! I suppose it depends on the genre but everyone cries!

  4. “…it gets annoying is if she is screaming and crying right in the midst of danger or making ridiculous scenes that no half-sane woman would make.”–I agree with this.

  5. I absolutely agree, Susan. Heroines – and heroes – all reach those times when tears are necessary, and to not show them is dehumanizing. Kat has cried; so has Tevis (my two major characters). Weakness isn’t a matter of crying, it’s a matter of retreating when, in fact, you have a chance to deal with a situation. What it comes down to is, you cry – and deal with the situation – or you can deal with the situation first, THEN have the hysterics. To me – and to my characters, I guess – strength and weakness aren’t so much what you do as who you are.

  6. I think you have to question the humanity of anyone who never cries.

    There is a big difference between presenting a woman as crying over every little thing, and as crying over really terrible things. There is a big difference between having a woman cry when faced with adversity, and having her face up to adversity, do what needs to be done, and then cry later. Crying is a means of relieving stress. Someone can be tough and able step up to any challenge, yet still cry later as part of their recovery from the stress.

    I read a novel last year about the Cambodian genocide, and it made me cry. And I said so when I reviewed the book. If genocide doesn’t make you cry, do you have a heart?

    • Total agreement, ursiform. And, yeah, I’ve written scenes in which Kat or Tevis have cried – AFTER they’d dealt with the crisis.

    • Well said, Urs. Even though I don’t cry for myself much, I can definitely cry when I see others suffer. No idea how anyone couldn’t.

  7. Excellent post. I agree on the horror movie girls – that’s why I don’t watch those shows too often. I hope I never write a character that comes across like that, unless it’s meant to be a spoof. 😉 In my current work, even my tough guy shows emotion when he thinks all is lost. And my heroine, she cries. But when it’s natural, and when she can allow herself to. Then she picks herself back up and muddles on.

    • Thanks, Kathils! Yeah, the horror movies can drive me nuts. Sounds to me like you’ve got the right balance of emotion in your writing. Putting it in at the right times is key.

  8. In books, I’d expect a strong character to have a big, private cry when something horrible has happened. If they’re crying all the time, though, I’d be turned off. And that from someone who has gotten misty eyed over dog food commercials.
    Last year Sweetie witnessed 3yo nearly going head first over a staircase railing and grabbed him by the leg before he fell 2 stories down on his head. He handled the issue, made sure 3yo was safe in my arms, then went alone into the barn and cried. It’s that kind of feeling that makes you love someone/a character IMO.

    • Hey, Debra! My husband cries once in a great while. I’m more likely to catch him doing it during an emotional movie, though he’ll try to cover it up or even block me from seeing it, lol. What almost happened to your three year old should freak out most parents. I’m sure. There was certainly nothing wrong with your husband being upset. It goes to show that crying is natural and shouldn’t be shunned in fiction so long as it is used right.

      • I remember seeing “Saving Private Ryan” – and at the end of the movie, I was sitting in the darkened theater crying and trying to not let anybody know … And from a couple of rows behind me, I hear this guy – a WWII vet (I’d seen him when I came in), big, tough-looking dude – just sobbing his heart out. I totally lost it at that point, but it was one of those special connecting moments … I didn’t know this guy at all, but I loved him …

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